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The Limits of Linear Hitting

Despite what some people say, Linear Hitting isn't just a marketing term made up by Mike Epstein to sell DVDs. Instead, it is a widely-taught, but problematic, approach to teaching hitting. I discuss the key differences between Rotational Hitting and Linear Hitting in depth in an essay entitled Rotational Hitting vs. Linear Hitting: What's The Key Difference? However, let me touch upon those differences briefly here.
     While many people disagree about exactly what Linear Hitting is, when I think of Linear Hitting, I think of an approach to hitting that is focused on being short to the ball and getting power from the arms, hands, and wrists. Some telltales of Linear Hitting are the use of cues like...

  • A straight line is the shortest distance between
    two points.
  • A to C hand path.
  • Keep your front elbow down.
  • Throw your hands at the ball.
  • Take your hands directly to the ball.
  • Take the knob to the ball.
  • Keep the barrel above the ball.
  • Pop your wrists at the Point Of Contact (POC).

The clip below is a good example of what proponents of Linear Hitting want their students to do. Notice how the batter pushes his hands to the ball in a linear fashion and then pops his wrists through the POC.

Hands To The Ball

Hands To The Ball

You can see the same thing in the clip below of Ozzie Smith hitting one of the few home runs of his career.

Ozzie Smith Home Run Swing - Linear Hitting

Ozzie Smith's Linear Swing

The telltale that Ozzie Smith is a linear hitter is how extended he is at the POC and how his swing finishes down around his front hip. That happens because, instead of swinging on plane and adjusting by tilting over the plate, he instead drops his hands.

You could also argue that Derek Jeter's swing is characteristic of a linear hitter. Notice, in the clip below, how Derek Jeter first sweeps the bat head back toward the catcher and then basically just pulls the knob to the ball.

Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter's Linear Swing

While this swing may have worked for Derek Jeter in the past, I would argue that it is related to his recent decline.

I have literally never seen another major leaguer swing like this. As a result, I have a hard time advocating a swing that only one person seems to have ever managed to pull off.

As you would expect given Derek Jeter's life-long affiliation with the Yankees, Don Mattingly and many members of the New York Yankees organization still teach Linear Hitting. For instance, I have found a video of Don Mattingly on YouTube where he discusses this same basic swing, hand path, and position at the POC. If you search the Internet, you will find numerous pictures of hitters in the position at the POC that he describes in that video.[3] You can see this same basic hand path demonstrated on the cover of a new training video by Kevin Long of the Yankees.

Not What a Good Hitter Actually Looks Like at the POC

You see a number of things at the POC in the swings of people have been taught using this system. First, you see the arms fully extended at the POC (in what some call the Power V position). Second, you see the bat level to the ground. Third, you see what some call a seatbelt hand path, with the hands finishing down around the front hip. Finally, you see a 90 degree angle between the barrel and the front forearm. The problem is that this simply isn't what good hitters like Alex Rodriguez look like at the POC.

Alex Rodriguez's Home Run Swing

What A-Rod Actually Looks Like at the POC

There's no extension at the POC, no bat barrel level to the ground, no seatbelt hand path and dropping of the hands, and the barrel of the bat is in line with the front arm, not at a 90 degree angle.

Among other things, the biggest problem I have with Linear Hitting is that while Linear Hitting sometimes works at the lower levels of youth baseball and softball, it doesn't scale. In general, Linear Hitting only works until maybe 4th or 5th grade or so, at which point infielders can make most routine plays. Yes, it worked to a degree in the big leagues in the 70s and 80s when infields were covered with slick Astroturf surfaces, but it does not work on contemporary grass or dirt infields, which is why no more than perhaps one or two current major league baseball players (e.g. Ichiro Suzuki and Derek Jeter) swing in a way that even resembles what Linear Hitting instructors advocate. I do not believe in teaching kids a swing that they will have to abandon at some point as they get older, and that is why I am not a fan of Linear Hitting.

Finally, let me address a point of much confusion. When I think about Linear Hitting, I think about the hand path and nothing else. The reason is that if you study the swings of good, rotational hitters, then you will usually see a linear, back to front component to their weight shifts. In other words, just because a hitter strides and/or shifts their weight from back to front, it doesn't make them a linear hitter.

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